Utopia 2184:
Chapter the Fourth

In Which My Tutorial
is Concluded
by Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux,
Who Discourses
on Diamonds or Lozenges

There follows a great whirling and swinging, Kent momentarily gone. The Saint with me at this instant really is, as I did request, she of the roses, the tough little Doctor of the Church.

'Bon alors, regarde,' she begins, 'c'est quoi, ça?'

A prophet was asked, 'What do you see?' - 'A bowl of ripe summer fruit.' - 'Even so is Israel ripe for destruction.'

But this is not a bowl of ripe summer fruit. It is, in the empty and rose-drowsy space, a black marble obelisk, in the shape of the 'diamond' or (in the parlance of, I seem to recall, at least a few of the world's philosophy departments) 'lozenge'. Balanced finely on one tip. Diamond, symbolizing possibility in T, S4, S5, and other propositional calculi.

'Mais ça, c'est un symbole de la logique formelle ...'

'D'un calcul en quantique?'

'Non,' I reply, 'on sait bien que c'est simplement un symbole de la logique modale, le symbole qui signifie ...'

'Le Possible?' says she.

'Oui, le Possible.'

And I feel, as one may feel fear in a handful of dust, the fear of Contingency. That fear is akin to the fear of God, in the very final analysis is indeed one part of the fear of God.

First, Contingency in Nature. The vision of Kent that I have been granted evidently conceives global warming to result in the heating of England. The proposition is questionable because tomorrow's Greenlandic meltwaters may, for all that is known today, perturb the Gulf Stream, bringing a great cooling to England instead. Pineapples in Kent? Tomorrow may instead see wild dogs, even timber wolves, padding over crusted metre-deep snow along starved-out streets, the tea-time temperature in the Year of Grace 2184 not far above freezing even on sunny Benedict's Day.

Second, Contingency in Engineering. The vision I have been granted recklessly posits a level of residual technological capability sufficient to bring up a renewed Internet. It recklessly posits power generation sufficient to meet the needs of light rail, let alone of ordinary, restrained domesticity. It recklessly supposes that while nuclear fission weapons will be used, humanity will escape a fullscale fusion-weapons holocaust. These are large assumptions, which pessimistic analysts will question.

And it supposes the potential, for both good and ill, of genetic engineering to be in the end limited. (A reckless presupposition? On the one hand, genetic engineering may help us more than Saint Thomas More's vision has allowed - say, by giving us microbes that generate high-quality combustibles from sunlight and agricultural wastes, or even by giving us plants that grow industrial materials. Could some great vine grow boards and shingles for us, so to speak? Say, as vast gourds, that we need only clean out with hand tools to provide our poor people with durable housing? With, eventually, whole towns formed as jungles, in a happy symbiosis of humanity with vine? On the other hand, genetic engineering may harm us more radically than the vision has allowed, say by leading to the emergence of engineered, elite strains of Homo sapiens, fatally subverting the idea that all humans are in an equal sense born in God's image. But I suppose the Saint, if I could have him with me now in this empty and rose-dreamy space, would grasp at practical probabilities as lawyers must, stoutly averring that energy collapse will in some measure constrain the otherwise large ambitions of biotechnologists.)

Third, radically intractable, Contingency in Politics. Will significant numbers of communities understand, as the vision has presumed, the alienation from Nature that has mesmerized the urban West for the past five centuries? Will significant numbers of people, understanding their own incarnation, successfully draw from it the appropriate inference - namely, that with an undoing of spiritual foundations comes a destruction of the material basis of culture?

If they do draw that inference, will the realization leave them with resolution to act, or will they instead choose a paralysis of fear amid their crumbling institutions? Even as the Americans chose fear upon losing their proud twin towers? (That was a fear cloaked, to be sure, in the newspeak of 'security', of 'homeland defense', of bestowing 'freedom' on puzzled Afghans and Iraqis - on peoples whose cultures, while not in an American or British sense parliamentary, nevertheless generously antedate the Mayflower Compact.)

Even the supposition that we still have some decades before the crash is open to question. The crash could come next year, this year, could be triggered by political and military turmoil around the fragile facilities of Saudi Arabia.

When the culture of Roman Europe died, writes Toronto's own urbanologist Jane Jacobs, the very baking of bread became a lost art. It's not that all the people died. It's not even that they reverted to hunting and gathering. But it is a fact, she says, that they lost so much of civilization as to forgot the uses of yeast and oven, subsisting instead on gruel.

Could this, then, be all that is in store: ruins, barbarism, even in the heart of England - more, in the very heart of Italy: the whole world a single pestilential ruin? Or some different, but no less savage, decline, one made 'more sinister, and perhaps more protracted,' in the words of the Prime Minister in 1940, 'by the lights of perverted science'?

I see once again, now for the last time, the simple Kentish scene. As I grasp in the company of others the broken bread of our simple evening meal, I feel the community of the dead, the living, the unborn. I feel the responsibility of even the humblest in history. I feel myself falling gently to the Upper Canadian lawn, see in a manner beyond vision the official block and the official axe on that Tudor morning, hear in a manner beyond speech the admonition of Sainte Thérèse: 'I realized that love includes every vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal.' Rubbing my face in the sickly haze of a twenty-first-century summer, I smell roses.